Human Croquet and Hissy Fit

I have gathered us all together today to give thanks to a mighty institute. An institute that accomplishes many wonderful things with little thanks. In my town this institute offers free after school tutoring, will let you take home DVDs of popular films, has CDs by the hundreds, lends you paintings for your walls, allows free access to the internet, and even has books of all sorts, both fiction and non. I am talking about my local library and we give thanks in the name of National Library Week. I read a lot, usually between five and ten books a week, and all three of my kids read quite a bit so the library has been a financial boon for us. If we had to pay for all the books we read we would be living on the streets because we'd have no money left over for housing. But the library can be a bit overwhelming if you have no idea what you want to read. Luckily for you I am here with a couple of suggestions for books I recently checked out and enjoyed very much.

Two of the books I read had a similar theme; a motherless daughter tries to set her chaotic life to rights by finding out what why her mother abandoned her. The first one is called Human Croquet, written by Kate Atkinson, and it has everything I love in a book, mystery, humor, beauty, fear, and fantastic elements. It’s the story of Isobel, a girl who lives in a boardinghouse with an assortment of odd people, most of them relatives. Her brother is fascinated with stories of people who have mysteriously vanished, her stepmother thinks the furniture rearranges itself if she doesn't watch it every moment, her father, who was gone and rumored to be dead for years after her mother disappeared, is not the father she remembers. Her good friend seems to be set on joining those who have gone astray, but she's doing it very slowly, sort of fading away. "What's wrong with Audrey?" everyone asks, as she gets quieter and quieter and more and more distant. A boarder at the rooming house may have turned into an insect and the next-door neighbor may or may not have died violently.

Isobel manages to bumble on, despite the increasing weirdness of her environment and those who populate it, defending herself with her greatest weapon, her glorious wit and smart mouth, until she starts to experience little time warps. One minute she's walking to school, the next she's stuck in the distant past, wondering what on earth it all means. And what does it all mean? There are scads of possible explanations presented; Isobel could be a direct descendent of the Lady of the Wood who is still angry because her mortal husband treated her poorly. Are all of the strange happenings because of the curse she laid on the family hundreds of years before? Or are aliens visiting? Is the house alive or is her mother's ghost trying to communicate with them? The buffet of possible explanations is a large part of what makes this book such a delight. Isobel herself is the rest of it; she's so funny and dear that you can't help but love sharing her story with her.

On the surface the other book, Hissy Fit by Mary Kay Andrews, is utterly and completely different. Although at the heart of this book there is a mystery, there is nothing fantastic about it. This book has its feet squarely on the ground and would not tolerate even a hint of a fairy queen running around its pages. But underneath it's another story of someone who can't come to grips with the mysterious disappearance of her mother and how this absence affects her life.

Hissy Fit is billed as a romance but I would call it a coming of age story. After all for a book to be a romance doesn’t it need to be a love story? It's almost an anti-love story. It starts off at Keeley Murdock's wedding rehearsal where she discovers her fiancé having sex with her best friend, and not just having sex but talking about how much better it is with her friend than it is with her. Naturally she throws a huge fit, cancels the wedding, tries to write something nasty about him on the side of the car (misspelling it in her rage), and starts to walk home in her extremely uncomfortable shoes. Enter Will Mahoney, an unattractive redhead with more money than sense who tries to rescue her and hire her to restore his beautiful antebellum mansion.

Keeley is adamantly opposed to working for him but her ex-fiancé's banking family retaliates against her and all of her business dries up, leaving her with no choice but to take his commission. Will has big plans for the house; he has decided he's in love with a woman he saw on television and he wants the house to be so wonderful that she'll see it and fall in love with it and him on the spot. As Keeley works on the house she starts to research her mother's disappearance and her perception of the people in her small town changes as she learns what exactly happened so many years ago. Although this book is quite sad in parts overall it's funny and sweet and most of all, fun.